Being a spelling master seems to be hereditary for Srinath Mahankali of Bayside.
Although this is his first year qualifying for the bee, the 11-year-old Mahankali has already seen what it takes to be a winner. His older brother, Arvind, gained national attention after winning the championship in his third time competing in 2013, and Srinath was part of the process by helping him study.
In person, the younger Mahankali radiates a maturity far beyond his age. He thanks the principal, assistant principal and students at his school for supporting him throughout the regional spelling bee process and the newfound attention he has been getting from the outside world, which he tries not to let get to his head.
“I just want to feel normal,” Srinath said. “I’m not feeling shy, but I am proud of winning the regional spelling bee.”
And he doesn’t compare himself to his brother Arvind, now a 10th-grader at Stuyvesant High School. “I’m not looking at this as a competitive thing,” Srinath said. “He did inspire me to do this.”
The parents of the boys are both employed in professions involving science and technology —mother Bhavani Mahankali is a physician and father Srinivas Mahankali is in the software industry. Srinivas said that his sons are self-motivated to pursue academic prestige even outside of high-profile competitions.
“Both the children made us really proud but the spelling bee is not an end in itself,” Srinivas Mahankali said. “It’s a lifelong thing. It’s a part of the biggest picture.”
Srinath Mahankali is not the only Queens student gearing up to take part in the bee. Sai Chandrasekhar, a Flushing teenager and an eighth-grader at Hunter College High School in Manhattan, will also be competing for the second time. She said that even though this is her last chance to take home the trophy, she is much more calm this year and feels proud of how much she has already accomplished at the young age of 13.
“It is my last chance but I’m not really that nervous,” Chandrasekhar said. “I’ve done a lot over the past few years, and I’m just going to do my best, and give it my best shot.”
In describing her pre-competition process, Chandrasekhar said that she does not try to cram more words into her head, but instead focuses on relaxing activities to stay stress-free.
The Championship Finals of the Scripps Spelling Bee will air on on May 28 at 8 p.m. on ESPN.